I left Guatemala City and headed towards the El Salvador border. I decided to make towards the Pacific Coast border crossing down south.
I rode into the border town of Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado. Immediately on my arrival I am greeted by a guy asked to see my papers. This is the start of a common border scam. Scam is a rather harsh word but essentially they prey on travelers fears and ignorance and then provide a service to act as you guide to cross the border. He had given me the impression that this was a legit part of the border crossing process when in fact he was just a civilian trying to make a buck or 2. It wasn’t long when I figured out he wasn’t official but Jose happened to be a nice guy and was a very calm individual. So I over looked this fact and carried on with him as my guide.
A typical border crossing in Central America involves tooing and froing, between unmarked buildings to tiny photocopying shops, all the while being hassled by kids, hawkers and money changers. Though being firm from the outset can put a stop to alot of this.
The usually birder crossing involve 4 steps. Briefly first you have to go to the immigration offices on the side you are leaving and get your passport exit stamp. Then get photos copies of you passport page with the exit stamp. The you need to go to the Aduana offices and cancel your temporary import permit for you vehicle and give them copies of you Bike title, drivers licence. Passport main page, passport exit stamp. Depending on the border they may also inspect the vehicle on exit inspection of the bike VIN number etc.
The you leave and crossing into No-mans land. The you have to tackle the next country. First you will go to immigration and present you passport. And pay for your tourist card. The you photocopy these, the to the Aduana for a bike inspection where you will have to show your exit stamps from the previous country and your new tourist card. Then they inspect your bike. Then they give youa permit. Then you photocopy that. The you leave and hand over a photocopy to the gaurds at the actual border crossing.
Every border crossing is slighty different but this is largely the process.
Check self out at Immigration. Check bike out at Aduana. Check self into next county at Immigration. Check bike in at Aduana.
El Salvador was particularly up front about their attitude to corrutpion and had a sign up that stated all their services are free of charge and you should pay nothing to enter El Salvador.
Of course that didnt stop anyone outside trying to scam you and I was warned that someone may ask me to pay a “ticket” for my vehicle outside.
So my border crossing into El Salvador was pretty uneventful and generally an ok experience. I paid my Guide Q70 for his services maybe 5 euros.
I rode out and was waved down by one guy I presumed this was the ticket guy so I drove past.
I was In El Salvador!!!
I headed for the surf town of La Libertad. I stayed there one night and met some nice El Salvadorans. The Hotel I had stayed in seemed to be a knocking spot for prostitutes as the guy who “helped” me find a place recognised two girls that came out of there. When I asked the lady of the house was there a room available, she said yes, but she would have to clean the room. I said fine. Then realised that’s was probably where the brazzers plying their trade… ugggggh..I didnt give a crap I was tired. (ending up in dodgy prostitute hotels by accident seem to be a bit of a pattern)
The next day I moved on and stayed in La Union and small port town. The area around there is very beautiful but the town certainly is not, but I have come to like these hectic towns that are more typical of the country than the trourist areas.
That night I spent researching the El Salvador / Hondurous border crossing. This is a notoriously difficult border crossing. I have read a lot of stories of people being tricked by there guides or officials into paying several hundred dollars in “fines” because thier documentation was not in order.
I knew I was in for a hectic day but I was also determinded to do it myself and not take a guide.
On my arrival, like the previous border crossing, I was surrounded people, people hassling you all trying to get your attention so you take them as a guide. I was very firm from the outset and said ” No necissito auydar, voy a hacer lo a mi mismo” basically ” I dont need help, I am going to do it myself”. I’m sure this is not 100% correct but it got the message across. After a while of insisting I was doing it myself and eventually just laughing at them, I walked off and set about the process. My first stop was the immigration to cancel my tourist card. They dont stamp your passport leaving El Salvador it all done on computer. But as I looked around I was being shadowed by a young guy, who kept on offering advice, pointing at various buildings, talking in a Spanish that I was not able to understand. It was more frustrating than anything. I dont mind someone trying to make an honest dollar, but when someone is talking to you and confusing you, it gets very frustrating. I kept telling him to leave me alone that I didnt want his help, but he just followed. I had plenty of time, I wasnt going to rush anything or get swept away by someones false urgencey to make the border crossing seem alot worse than it actually was. I wasn’t phased at all at this crossing for some reason. Well mainly because I had done my homework and knew what to expect. I was enjoying the hecticness of the border without being hassled, apart my little friend following me.
The official whom I dealt with seemed to respect the fact that was doing it myself and were very helpful. Though I have also heard of officials who hassel you and make it awkward because you didnt take a guide, so that is not always the case! I got my exit stamps, went over to the photocopying place, made copies, went back to the Aduna offices to cancel my bike permit. They came out inspected the bike and I follewed them back in an sat in their office. No probems there. I changed some money outside with a money changer and gave some change to some kids who thrust thier hand out and demanded money. I then gave my shadow a dollar who had done nothing except follow me around from window to window offering unwanted information.
Next I had to deal with Honduras. This is where it is supposed to get really interesting.
I drove over the bridge and was stopped by a guy with an official looking stamp and an ID. He demanded to seem my papers. I started to take them out but I had a bad feeing about what was going on and I doubts started to creep in whether he was genuine or not. This can happen easy as these places are very hectic, lots of noise, lots of people talking at you etc etc. I asked him where his office was and he pointed to a roofless house. I laughed, the I said “the real office”, he said “down there”. I told him I would give him the documentation in his office He refused and insisted i had to do it here. I got suspicious got on my bike and statred it up all the time he was looking a little more confused and powerless. Was he for real? I couldnt tell. I decide to drive off to see if he woud physically stop me or blow his whistle. He didnt so i moved toward the Immigration shacks.
(several day later I recounted the story to a Swiss couple who informed me he was legit…ooops)
I then went and sorted my passport and tourist card at the immigration office. I went around the side door and got chatting to the officials who invited me in. I had really good craic with them. I was in the office joking about with them and actually filming inside the building, this would be unheard of at any other border. They sorted all my documents pretty quickly and gave me some orange juice. Really nice folk at the Honduras Immigration Office.
Next it was off to the Aduana offices to sort my documents. Again igrnoed the people standing outside the window and went inside. After some photocopying, back and forward etc etc I was eventually issued my permit- then photocopied that. Got on my bike and left and handed one copy to the border guard.
I drove through Honduras and stopped many times of Cow traffic jams. I thought I was back at home. I spent one night in a hotel in Honduros where I met a Mexican cyclist I had seen the day before. We went out for a few drinks and talked about life on the road.
The next day I crossed into Nicaragua. The Nica crossing was much of the same allbeit a tad easier. The only probelm I had was trying to find the lady to buy insurance off. Without insurance the Aduana official would not finish processing my documentation. I walked around the building a few times looking, past the sellers and the lady taking money for using the toilets, but I couldnt find the office anywhere. I asked serveral people. Eventually I went back into the building and asked a security guard where to find this ellusive lady. He brought me outside and lead me to the toilet lady. What!? Yep it was her, of course it had to be. This is where I had to buy my insurance. How stupid of me I mean it was obvious really, who else would be selling insurance only the toilet lady!?
She moved aside her toilet rolls and took out her clip board and began to take my details, I handed her $12 and I was insured!… apparently..
I love Central America.